We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History

We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History

by Phillip Hoose

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Overview

We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History by Phillip Hoose

"This may be the most exhilarating and revelatory history of our country. It is must reading for today's youth-as well as their elders." —Studs Terkel

From the boys who sailed with Columbus to today's young activists, this unique book brings to life the contributions of young people throughout American history. Based on primary sources and including 160 authentic images, this handsome oversized volume highlights the fascinating stories of more than 70 young people from diverse cultures. Young readers will be hooked into history as they meet individuals their own age who were caught up in our country's most dramatic moments-Olaudah Equiano, kidnapped from his village in western Africa and forced into slavery, Anyokah, who helped her father create a written Cherokee language, Johnny Clem, the nine-year-old drummer boy who became a Civil War hero, and Jessica Govea, a teenager who risked joining Cesar Chavez's fight for a better life for farmworkers. Throughout, Philip Hoose's own lively, knowledgeable voice provides a rich historical context-making this not only a great reference-but a great read. The first U.S. history book of this scope to focus on the role young people have played in the making of our country, its compelling stories combine to tell our larger national story, one that prompts Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, to comment, "This is an extraordinary book-wonderfully readable, inspiring to young and old alike, and unique."

We Were There, Too! is a 2001 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374382520
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 08/28/2001
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 276
Sales rank: 621,471
Product dimensions: 10.14(w) x 10.25(h) x 0.85(d)
Lexile: 950L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Phillip Hoose is an award-winning author of books, essays, stories, songs and articles. Although he first wrote for adults, he turned his attention to children and young adults in part to keep up with his own daughters. His book Claudette Colvin won a National Book Award and was dubbed a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009. He is also the author of Hey, Little Ant, co-authored by his daughter, Hannah, It's Our World, Too!, and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird. We Were There, Too! was a National Book Award finalist. He has received a Jane Addams Children's Book Award, a Christopher Award, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, among numerous honors. He was born in South Bend, Indiana, and grew up in the towns of South Bend, Angola, and Speedway, Indiana. He was educated at Indiana University and the Yale School of Forestry. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One



Diego Bermúdez probably heard about Columbus's voyage from the booming voice of Martin Alonso Pinzón, leader of the best-known sailing family in the Spanish town of Palos de la Frontera. A crowd gathered around Pinzón as he stood in the dusty town square one afternoon, trying to make himself heard. According to a sailor, this is what Pinzón shouted:

    make this journey, for with the help of God we will discover land, for according to rumor we will find houses roofed with gold and everyone will become rich and fortunate."

    Colón, known to us as Christopher Columbus. Townspeople listened, though many thought the idea was crazy. Columbus proposed to sail west all the way across the Ocean Sea to Cipango (Japan), Cathay (China), and the Spice Islands, now part of Indonesia. It had never been done before. Columbus was confident the journey would take only about a month. They'd all be back in less than a year, he said.

    sailed with Columbus were homeless orphans who begged for or stole what food they could. Some found work on the boats, scrubbing the decks or repairing ropes. Most couldn't read or write, since there was no public school in Palos. They liked to gather around the docks, listening to sailors tell stories of giant fish, gold, waterspouts, and battles at sea.

    be gromets, or apprentice seamen. They would scramble up the ropes high above the deck to rig and change the sails. They would also repair ropes and row the ships' officers to and from the shore. In storms and heavy seas they'd cling one-armed to the masts, lashing the sails to their wooden frames while the wind tore at their fingers. They had to learn dozens of knots and hitches. Each gromet carried a knife at all times and wore a belt with a supply of rope sections around his waist. Captains hired teenagers partly because they showed little fear and partly because, unlike many of the old sailors, most boys still had both arms and legs.

    of the ships' officers. Columbus's devoted criado was sixteen-year-old Pedro de Salcedo. Columbus grew to like him so much that years later he arranged for Pedro to get profits from the sale of all soap in much of the New World.

    members. Pages kept track of everyone's watch duty and did work that no one else wanted to do, like cooking one hot meal per day, washing fire-blackened pots, and scrubbing the decks.

    had very mixed feelings about the chance to go on such an adventure. On the one hand, there was the possibility of discovering gold and winning fame. Even if that didn't happen, Columbus had raised enough money to offer every sailor four months' advance pay. This was a fortune to most families of Palos. On the other hand, Diego might well have been worried. Maps of the time showed that huge, dragonlike monsters lurked in the Ocean Sea. Were they really out there? Even if the sailors made it to the Indies, how could they ever get back home against the stiff wind that blew west from the coast of Spain? And how could Columbus and Pinzón really know that you could reach the Indies by sailing west?

    the morning of August 3, 1492, the whole town gathered to send off the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Some boys got married just before they sailed, promising their brides that they would return as wealthy husbands.

    then, on September 6, they cast off into the unknown for the West and Cipango. When land disappeared from sight three days later, some sailors burst into tears.

    tennis court. The Santa María was a little bigger than the other two ships. The Niña and the Pinta each carried about twenty-five men and boys, the Santa María about forty. The crews had to quickly learn to work as a team on the rocking, slippery decks.

    every day—a loose-fitting poncho pulled over a shirt, trousers tied with a drawstring, and a red woolen cap jammed onto his head. He bathed by dumping a bucket of seawater over his body. The toilet was a seat called the "garden" that dangled out over the edge of the ship. He slept in his soggy clothes on a thin mattress below deck, where you couldn't stand up without bumping your head. The crew ate small loaves of twice-baked bread called hardtack along with pea stews and salted meat or fish. Even the youngest boys washed their food down with strong white wine.

    Columbus—had to stand watch for four hours once a day to look out for weather changes or enemy ships. Sailors couldn't wait to get off watch. Every half hour the crew relied on the sound of a page's voice to tell them how much of their shift remained.

    half hour's supply of sand. When all the sand ran to the bottom, the page on duty turned the glass over and sprinted up to the poop deck—a little landing above the main deck. There he rang a bell, filled his lungs with air, and sang out a prayer loudly enough for everyone to hear. Pages had to memorize sixteen different prayers in all, each for a particular time of day.

    it up and make the sand run faster. That led to the utterance of Columbus's favorite oath, "By San Fernando!" and sometimes a thrashing. Pages also helped measure how fast their ships were going by throwing a piece of wood out onto the water and counting how many seconds it took the object to pass between two marks on the ship's rail.

    to remind his officers to keep the boys from "skylarking"—goofing off. His journal tells of keen-eyed boys who were "posted aloft" to look for land. Once he described a group of boys clustered at the rail of the Santa María, laughing and throwing stones from the cooking box at some seabirds near the ship.

    after three weeks at sea with no sight of land, sailors began to panic. In the fourth week, a group of crew members threatened to throw Columbus overboard if he didn't turn back. But three days later a sailor high atop the mast of the Pinta cried out, "¡Tierra!" He had spotted land. Just as Columbus had said, about a month had passed by. Surely they had reached Cipango.

    three ships as gromets rowed Columbus and his officers toward the beach of a green, low-lying island. Columbus splashed ashore and jammed a pole bearing Spain's flag into the sand, claiming the land in the name of the Spanish king and queen. A group of about thirty naked, painted people watched cautiously from a distance before edging out slowly to inspect—and then greet—the Spaniards.

    Cuba, and an island they called Hispaniola—now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Columbus wrote that the boys discovered pine trees and other new plants, and that one of them found "certain stones that appear to contain gold."

    after three days on shore. He instructed the pilot to steer the boat toward a goldfield the "Indians" (as he had decided to call the people who lived on the islands) had told him about and then stumbled, exhausted, into his cabin. But the pilot was tired, too. He spotted a boy sleeping on deck, shook him awake, and ordered him to take over the ship. That boy may have been Diego Bermúdez, for he was one of the few young boys on the Santa María's crew, but Columbus's journal doesn't name him. Then the pilot, too, fell asleep.

    boys were strictly forbidden from taking the wheel of any of the ships. Columbus's log tells what happened next:

    the bank so quietly that it was hardly noticeable. When the boy felt the rudder ground and felt the noise of the sea, he cried out. I jumped up instantly; no one else had yet felt that we were aground. Then the master of the ship, Juan de la Cosa, who was on watch, came out. I ordered him to rouse the crew."

    only choice was to tear apart the Santa María and build a fort with the timbers. They called it La Navidad, meaning Christmas. One boy's bad luck had turned into the first Spanish settlement in North America.


What Happened to Diego Bermúdez?

    New World on any of Columbus's other three voyages, but his brother Juan did. In 1515 Juan stopped to explore a group of islands and left behind a few pigs. Later, when British explorers found the islands, they were overrun with the pigs' wild descendants. The Bermuda Islands are named after Diego's brother Juan.


"When you ask for something, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with



"All those that I saw were young people, none of whom was over thirty years old," wrote Christopher Columbus, describing the first group of people he met in the New World. Indeed, anthropologists conclude that at least half of all Tainos were fifteen or younger.

    dawn and scooped breakfast from a big day pot, still warm from last night's meal. It was usually leftover "pepper pot" stew, made with the bitter juice of a tall, leafy plant called manioc. After breakfast, girls would go off to help their aunts, cousins, and mothers tend manioc in fields and take care of young children. They peeled and sliced sweet potatoes and rolled manioc into flour to make cassava bread. Girls helped their mothers plant maize, scratching holes into the earth with a pointed stick. Girls also took fiber from cotton and wound it into cords to make hammocks.

    men. They lowered nets from boats into the ocean, and then hauled in the catch. Sometimes they speared larger fish with bone-tipped harpoons. Tainos made huge canoes by hollowing out the trunks of trees. Some were so large they could hold fifty rowers. When everyone stroked together in rhythm, Taino canoes were faster than Spanish ships.

    with small yellow dogs called alcos that couldn't bark and are now extinct. Boys and girls chased down lizards, iguanas, snakes, and birds. They shinnied up trees and caught wild parrots by luring them with tame parrots tied to their hands. They snacked throughout the day, grabbing handfuls of sea grapes and coco plums, snatching birds' eggs from nests, and peeling snails from rocks. Boys and girls practiced a ball game called batey—a cross between volleyball and soccer played with a rubber ball. Players sent the ball back and forth through the air, using all parts of their body but their hands. Teams from villages often competed with one another.

    who became even more important to him than his father. Taino children grew up to worship two supreme gods, one male and one female. They believed that after a person died, his or her soul would enter a paradise called coyaba, where there would be no more hurricanes or hunger or sickness and there would always be plenty of water to drink.

    Tainos as "people poor in everything." He assumed they would happily believe anything the explorers told them. The Spanish were keenly interested in the small pieces of gold that dangled from Taino ears and nostrils—which, the explorers thought, proved that they had actually reached Japan. The Tainos, fearful of the Spaniards' weapons, were eager to please. The Tainos kept saying yes, there was more gold. And there was, but not much. There were no palaces with golden roofs, just nuggets that had washed down to the bottoms of mountain streams in Hispaniola over many years.

    who paddled their canoe up alongside the Niña, perhaps to show off their parrots or trade for trinkets. Columbus wrote that he intended to take them to Spain to learn Spanish and then bring them back to help priests convert Indians to Christianity. A week later the two oldest squirmed free and dived overboard. A furious Columbus watched them splash away.


Excerpted from We Were There, Too! by Phillip Hoose. Copyright © 2001 by Phillip Hoose. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionvi
Part One "¡Tierra!": When Two Worlds Met
Part Two Strangers in Paradise: The British Colonies
Part Three Breaking Away: The American Revolution
Part Four Learning to Be a Nation
Part Five One Nation or Two? The Civil War
Part Six Elbow Room: The West
Part Seven Shifting Gears in a New Century
Part Eight Hard Times: Wars, Depression, and Dust
Part Nine Times That Kept a-Changin'
Linking Up in the Twenty-first Century
Acknowledgments252
Sources253
Index257
Picture Credits264

What People are Saying About This

Pete Seeger

This book is inspiring, showing the active roles played by young people throughout history, from long ago to recent times. May it show young people in every corner of our land today how they can be active in the great struggle of our time: to build a peaceful world, in spite of all our differences.

Gaylord Nelson

To feel effective in society, young people need a sense of their historical stake in it. Far more than any book I've seen, We Were There, Too! shows that youths have often shaped important events in our national story . . . Young people haven't received the recognition they deserve. At last, here is a book to right the wrong.

Reading Group Guide

I. Investigations

Use We Were There, Too! to stimulate inquiry-based learning.

Digging into Primary Sources

Select a particular period in American history. Find primary source material: broadsides, newspapers, diaries, government documents, photographs, etc.

Activities

After reading Saints and Strangers: Bound by Hope (pages 25-28), find out more about Elizabeth Tilley. Through the Internet, students can find more detailed biographical information, read her last will and testament, and even trace her genealogy up to the present day. (Three U.S. presidents are direct descendants.)

Photo research. After reading Peggy Eaton: Ridin' the Rails (pages 198-201), search the Library of Congress American Memory Collections for photographs of children during the Depression (for example, Gottschlo-Schleisnewer, "Seventy-one Years, or My Life with Photography, Part IV, The Depression Years, 1931-1934"). Make a collage contrasting the different experiences.

Social Conscience

Find examples of young people in social struggle and recognize their impact on change. For example: antislavery — Frederick Douglass: Taking On a Tyrant (pages 94-97), the labor movement — Jennie Curtis: Strike Leader (pages 171-75), or civil rights — Elizabeth Eckford: Facing a Mob on the First Day of School (pages 218-20).

Activities

• Stage a debate between Jenny Curtis and George Pullman

• Have a student portray Elizabeth Eckford and give a speech retelling her ordeal.

• Make placards for each young person proclaiming their struggle.

• Class project: Create a newspaper. Individual reporters can write articles and interviews, draw political cartoons, etc.

In Time of War

Acts of heroism during times of crisis are not limited to adults. Whether acting as spies, engaging in combat, raising money, or even protesting what they thought was an unjust war, young people have made their mark on history. Find examples and explore the role of young people during times of war.

For example: Joseph Plumb Martin: "And Now I Was a Soldier" (pages 53-57), Elisha Stockwell: "Such a Mess As I Was In" (pages 106-9), Mary Redmond, John Darragh, and Dicey Langston: Spies (pages 62-64), Margaret Davidson: War on the Home Front (pages192-95), Calvin Graham: Too Young to Be a Hero? (pages 202-4), and John Tinker: Tinker v. Des Moines (pages 225-229).

Activities

• Pick young people from different eras and compare the roles they played and their motivation.

• Relate their experiences to modern-day children. Research the role children have played in contemporary struggles, for example, Sierra Leone, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

Women in American History

Have your students read several entries that focus on the role of young women, for example, Eliza Lucas: Indigo Planter (pages 36-38), Phyllis Wheatley: The Impossible Poet (pages 42-45), and Rose Cohen: First Day in a Sweatshop (pages 165-68).

Activities

• Report on the similarities and differences of the young women's experiences.

• Engage in a panel discussion acting out what each might say and how they would say it.

Similar treatment can be done for minority groups: Susie King Taylor: At the Heart of the Sea Islands (pages116-19), Chuka: "I Did Not Want My Shirt Taken from My Back" (pages155-59), and Charles Denby: Bound North (pages 184-187); or for Immigrants: Ng Poon Chew and Lee Chew: Gold Mountain Boys (pages 146-150), Terry Grimmesey: What Had We Done (pages 205-8), and Arn Chorn: Starting All Over (pages 237-39).

II. Call to Action

The lives depicted in this book, whether ordinary or heroic, show that every individual participates in his or her time: each of us has a part in history. Here are some suggestions for activities students can become involved in.

Activities

Stamp campaign: Petition the U.S. Postal Service on behalf of a local hero. New York towns petitioned and won a stamp for Sybil Ludington in 1975. The Citizen's Advisory Committee of the U.S. Postal Service handles petitions for the creation of new stamps. Log on to www.usps.gov. On the left side of the screen find "About USPS." Click on "Who We Are." Here you'll find the listing for the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee and all the procedures and regulations needed to petition for a new stamp.

Quality of life: Using the story of Kory Johnson: An Environmentalist for Life (pages 246-49) as inspiration for a cleaner environment, create a community garden or improve a park. This can be done in cooperation with your science teacher. Students can study which plants will grow best in the available environment, track the growth of the plants, study the biology of flowering plants, and so on.

III. Responding to Literature

These suggestions can be used to extend the learning, as a comprehension check, and to enhance the enjoyment of We Were There, Too! and nonfiction literature in general. These activities can be used in cooperation with other subject area teachers (art, drama, reading).

Activities

Imagine a meeting between two young people with similar struggles but from different eras. Write a dialogue between them. For example Lucy Larcom or Harriet

Hanson: Voices of the Mills (pages 82-84) and Joseph Milauskas: Breaker Boy (pages 168-171).

Identify personality traits in the young people in the book by creating circle maps. Compare maps to show similarities and differences.

Journal writing is a time-honored tradition in American history. Travelers on the Mayflower, pioneers, farmers, and others kept journals to record the everyday happenings of their lives. Read Carrie Berry: "They Came Burning Atlanta Today" (pages 120-23). Have your students write journal entries of their lives. The entries can contain facts about what is going on, their thoughts and feelings, or anything they think is pertinent to their journals.

• Read the section Betty Parris and Abigail Williams: Bewitched or Bored? (pages 29-32). Using a flow chart, track the sequence of events that led up to the Salem Witch Trials.

• Make a replica of the flag that Caroline Pickersgill (pages 79-81) helped to sew in 1813. Research other historical American flags.

• Students can dress up as one of the historical figures and tell his or her story.

• Groups of students can write a play about one of the characters and perform it.

• Students can write an epic poem telling the story of one of the young people in the book.

• On a map of the United States, identify where the stories take place. Mark the map with the characters' names.

• Make a time-line mural of American history featuring the young people who made it. The mural can be made large enough to stretch down the school hall.

• For fun, have students pick a character and play "six degrees of separation" from the character to themselves.

IV. Enrichment

Every chapter in We Were There, Too! can be used as the start of a research project on the Internet. One example is the genealogy of Elizabeth Tilley. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George H. Bush, and George W. Bush are her descendants. On the Refdesk Web site (see note below), type in "Elizabeth Tilley". On the first page of links you'll find Genealogy of the presidents of the USA Elizabeth Tilly. Click on and follow the paths of her daughter Hope Howland and her son Joseph Howland to the presidents.

Note on the World Wide Web

This book is perfectly suited for leading students to do research on the Internet. While most students by now can log on, play games, and surf for their favorite sites, they are at a loss when it comes to researching for primary-source historical documents.

Excellent sites include:

www.refdesk.com/

Refdesk is a source for facts on the net. It is extremely easy to use. Log on to the Internet with your browser, then type in: www.refdesk.com/. Look in the upper left hand corner for the box labeled "search the Web / Google Search." Type most any name mentioned in the book and it will link to dozens of sites that can supply primary-source documents.

http://lcweb.loc.gov/

This is the home page for the Library of Congress. You can search its vast collections of photographs and printed documents.

http://personal.pitnet.net/primarysources

This is The American Colonist's Library. It links to primary source document pertaining to early American history.

www.ala.org/parentspage/greatsites/people.html

Through the American Library Association you can link to many sites with primary-source material designed for use by teachers and students.

www.state.vt.us/vhs/educate/diaries.htm

This is the site for the Vermont Historical Society. The site provides lesson plans focusing on two diaries of Vermont schoolchildren.

For more information visit www.weweretheretoo.com

This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, a former teacher and bookstore owner.

Foreword

Introduction

The idea to write this book started with a comment made by Sarah Rosen, a girl I interviewed for a book about young social activists entitled It's Our World, Too! Her school had staged a reenactment of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 without allowing girls to participate. Her teacher had explained that since women hadn't taken part then, girls couldn't take part now. Sarah responded by taking over the halls with chanting, poster-carrying girls and organizing a counterconvention. Later, talking to me about her U.S. history class, she remarked, "We're not taught about younger people who have made a difference. Studying history almost makes you feel like you're not a real person."

It made me think about my own education. I couldn't remember having read about anyone my age in my history classes either. I started combing through U.S. history textbooks and found that Sarah was right. A very few young people seemed to have survived in the pages — Pocahontas and Sacagawea, to name two. But for the most part, to become historically real to be remembered in a U.S. history book, you had to be an adult.

It's easy to see why. Adults were more likely to have written journals and diaries. They were also more likely to have accomplished the kinds of things that usually get remembered as historical events. Presidents and generals were adults. But as I began to do research for this book, I found that if you scratch any major event in U.S. history, young people are everywhere. Often they're right in the middle of the action.

The story of Columbus's journey to the New World in 1492 is a good example. Nearly a quarter of the crew members on the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria were teenagers and younger boys. According to anthropologists, more than half the Taino Indians they met were fifteen years of age or younger. Several of the Indians that the Spaniards kidnapped and carried back to Spain as trophies for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were children. One Spanish boy's misfortune resulted in an early European settlement in the New World. And more than half the sailors on Columbus's fourth and final voyage west in 1502 were boys in their teens or younger.

Young people have acted boldly from the very beginning. A fifteen-year-old Shoshone girl guided white explorers from the prairies to the Rocky Mountains, all the while caring for her baby. Another teenager, Jennie Curtis, sparked a national railroad strike with a single speech. A thirteen-year-old boy was the first undercover agent in the English Colonies. Hundreds of newsboys, tired of being cheated, banded together and nearly brought the nation's presses to a halt until their lost wages were restored. Martin Luther King, Jr., credited young people with much of the success of the civil rights movement. "The blanket of fear was lifted by Negro youth," he said. "When they took their struggle to the streets, a new spirit of resistance was born."

This book is a collection of stories of young people who were a part of U.S. history between 1492 and the present. All of the stories are of real people. Some, like Anna Green Winslow and Carrie Berry, kept diaries while they were young, and their writing has survived. More, like Frederick Douglass and Chuka, wrote about their youth once they got older. Still others became visible through the writings of those who met them. We know Pocahontas mainly through the journals of John Smith, and Sacagawea mainly through the writings of Lewis and Clark. When I reached the twentieth century, I was able to interview living people and hear them tell their own stories.

There are many more stories beyond those that I chose. It's worth researching and interviewing to know them. Why? Because stories of caring and courageous people from history are inspiring. And because we're less likely to repeat mistakes of the past if we know about historical blunders. And because no single person's story, even that of a president, tells enough about a historical event or time. There are always other perspectives worth understanding. The American Revolution means one thing if you see it through the eyes of white men in powdered wigs with the weight of a new nation on their shoulders. But it's something different when you can imagine yourself as a girl in a sunny sewing room, racing your cousin to see who can turn out more homespun cloth for liberty. Or as an apprentice, itching to fight the redcoats, convinced that freedom from Britain will also mean independence from your master. Or as a Haitian slave boy in Georgia fighting alongside French and Continental soldiers to win somebody else's freedom.

All these new voices can be challenging. I kept expecting each new diary or journal or interview to give me the final answer about some part of our country's history. But instead of closing doors, each new voice seemed to raise fresh questions and present new mysteries. Every book or article or Web site seemed to make me want to keep — rather than stop — reading.

Though their surroundings and circumstances may be very different from ours, the basic needs of the young people in these pages should seem familiar. Some were out to get rich, while others needed to feed their families. They wanted adventure, love and respect, a change of scenery. They longed for justice, safety, information, and the freedom to make their own decisions. Some sought to answer spiritual questions.

All the people you'll meet here deserve attention not simply because they are "real people" close to your age. They are important because through their sweat, bravery, luck, talent, imagination, and sacrifice — sometimes of their lives — they helped shape our nation.

Phillip Hoose

Linking Up in the Twenty-first Century

Most mornings fifteen-year-old Mary Fister, coffee cup steaming on the desk before her, has logged on to her family's personal computer by 7 A.M. Typically, she is greeted by at least twenty e-mail messages from around the world. "Usually they arrive from the east overnight and from this hemisphere in the afternoon," she says. As an active member of Nation One, a global network of young people working for social justice, Mary plans events and organizes activities with colleagues in Madagascar, Mexico, Australia, Greece, Canada, and the United States. Often there are several messages from Dakar, Senegal, where Mary is raising funds for a computer lab in a school with fifteen hundred students. "It'll be available to the whole community," she says. "It's a way to help people in one specific place gain access to the Internet and all it has to offer."

Like the boys who sailed with Columbus, Mary is part of a voyage that is shrinking the world by connecting strangers from distant places. "As long as they're on-line" she says, "there is no one in the world we can't talk to, and very little we can't find or learn."

Indeed, young Americans have much to celebrate at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Most have adequate shelter and enough food. With such deadly childhood diseases as polio, tuberculosis, and measles controlled by vaccines, Americans now live nearly thirty years longer than they did in 1900. Laws prohibit child labor. Education is now a right, for both boys and girls. Slavery and racial segregation are forbidden by law. Girls have more opportunities than ever. American society is becoming increasingly diverse, with immigrants from around the world bringing with them their foods, dances, songs, languages, and customs.

But uncertainties and challenges remain. Children are growing up in smaller families, often living with one parent, often removed from the wisdom of elders. A large gap remains between rich and poor. Civil rights laws have not eliminated intolerance. We've only begun to understand how human activities affect the environment. And, looking ahead, some wonder: Will we be able to control technology or will it come to control us? But the future has never been clear. "What's wrong with uncertainty?" Mary Fister asks. "If everything were predictable, this would be a boring place." Linked to young activists around the world, she feels hopeful about the future. "All in all," she says, "especially if you're above the poverty line, this is a very good time to be young."

Copyright © 2001 Phillip Hoose

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